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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday May 7, 2023

After dropping her first six sets against Iga Swiatek on clay (winning just 14 games across the three matches), Aryna Sabalenka flipped the script on Swiatek and notched a stunning victory on the red clay of the Caja Majica on Saturday in Madrid.

Tennis Express

The 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 triumph over the World No.1 and clay juggernaut marks Sabalenka’s fourth win over a World No.1-ranked player.

For Sabalenka, who struggled to win games, let alone sets or a match against Swiatek on clay, the victory represents a huge step. The fact that the contest was played at altitude in Madrid, where the Belarusian’s bruising baseline game can be more effective than at sea level, doesn’t change that fact.

Swiatek wasn’t willing to make excuses after her loss on Saturday, saying “I don't think we should talk about that, because she played a really good match. I don't want to blame my loss on conditions or something else. That's why we have variety in tennis, and that's why sometimes players are playing better on some surfaces.

“It doesn't really matter because she won, and I just respect that and I don't want to kind of take it from Aryna.”

As for Sabalenka, give her credit for helping to chip away at Swiatek’s invincible aura. The Pole entered the match with a mind-blowing 53-7 record on clay. If she had been able to win the title in Madrid, in her least favorable clay court conditions (due to the aforementioned altitude), it would have made her a lock to continue the domination at Rome and Roland-Garros.

Now, thanks to Sabalenka’s heroics, there is an air of intrigue surrounding the WTA’s road to Roland-Garros. Swiatek has not dipped, but Sabalenka has demonstrated that she’s worthy of more consideration on the surface as we head to Rome and Paris.

The victory was not lost on the World No.2. In this her best season, she has engineered one of her greatest victories.

“I definitely respect her a lot,” Sabalenka said on Saturday in Madrid. “She's a great player, and what she did last season and what she's keep doing, it's really motivating me a lot to improve, to keep working hard, to to keep fighting.”

Sabalenka told Courtney Nguyen, WTA Insider of the enormous respect she has for 21-year-old Swiatek and what she has accomplished and how she goes about her business on tour.

"That's why I respect her a lot and that's why I'm saying that what she's done in tennis motivates me a lot,” Sabalenka said on the Champion’s Corner podcast. “First of all, it's tough physically against her and secondly, mentally. Because you feel like you don't have these few games to drop your level. You always have to stay high with her."

Moving forward, does Sabalenka consider herself one of the favorites heading into Rome and Roland-Garros, now that she has claimed her second title at Madrid? (editor’s note: Sabalenka lost to Swiatek in the semis at Rome last year and owns a 4-4 lifetime record at the Foro Italico; at Roland-Garros she owns a 7-5 lifetime record and has never been beyond the third round).

"It's not like I feel that way, but I really want to be one of those players,” she told WTA Insider. “I'll keep working hard and keep trying to bring my best tennis in Rome and Roland Garros. We'll see after the clay-court season how good I am on clay or if I was just lucky these few weeks."